Podium Coaching Blog
Oscar speeches: the best and the worst
Last night’s Oscar awards gave us a chance to examine contrasting styles of acceptance speeches.
If you make any sort of presentation or speech as part of your job, there are lessons for you from last night’s show.
Two of the best speeches were from Colin Firth (best actor, The King’s Speech) and Tom Hooper (director, The King’s Speech). Firth had a simple opening (“I think my career just peaked”) and maintained a gently self-deprecating style through his speech. He warned the audience “I’m afraid I have to warn you that I’m experiencing stirrings somewhere in the upper abdominals which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves,” and ended with “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some impulses I have to attend to backstage.”
Hook your audience with your first words
by Halina St James
When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Halifax, Harbourside, a man asked if the ‘old rule’ about public speaking was still valid. He was referring to the “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them,” structure.
I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. There’s nothing wrong with this structure. Audiences need to know where you’re going with your presentation. And summing up at the end is also good. Just don’t let this become a rigid formula. Formulaic speeches can be boring.
Most people do a decent job with the “tell them “ and “tell them what you told them” parts. Unfortunately too many people interpret the opening “tell them what you’re going to tell them” as an opportunity to recite a long list. “Today I’m going to talk about…” followed by a list of sub-headings that would test the patience of any audience. Yawn. (more…)
Don’t be a cultural colonialist
by Halina St James
Years ago when I taught English as a Second Language, I touched a Thai student’s head. He was deeply offended. Another of my students, a wealthy Iranian teenager, would constantly snap his fingers at me when he wanted my attention. This time I was offended.
How we move, act and gesture is very important as we deal with other cultures. Here are some tips to help you when you’re speaking face to face.
Don’t kiss the Queen
Understand if a handshake, a bow, a kiss or a nose rub is the appropriate greeting when you meet someone for the first time. When the actor Mickey Rooney met Queen Elizabeth, he kissed her hand. The British were not amused. He had violated centuries-old protocol.
Are your questions getting the best answers?
I keep six honest serving-men,
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who.
— Rudyard Kipling
I’ve been asking questions professionally all my life, writes Neil Everton. For newspapers, radio stations and for BBC Television News. When I stopped running round the world as a television producer, I started training journalists. One of the courses we offered was on asking effective questions.
A lot of reporters I worked with used to complain that their interviewees didn’t give them strong quotes. When we looked at the notes or listened to the tapes we found out why. There was nothing wrong with the answers – but there were big problems with the questions.
If we are careless, many of our ‘questions’ actually limit the answer we get. They may generate a yes/no monosyllabic response. They may provide an escape route for someone looking to evade responsibility. Or they may be so ill-structured that they provoke an unfocused reply.
If you are hiring someone, or asking a client for specifics of a project, or conducting an appraisal session, you need hard-working questions.
You need to have an interview strategy. And you need to decide how to phrase the questions to elicit the information or response you need.
A quick tip is to make sure 80 per cent of your questions start with how, or what, or why.
(This post is an edited version of an article in our February Newsletter).
Let your body do the talking
Sometimes people from different cultures and in different age groups don’t have enough knowledge of each other’s language to communicate fully. But don’t worry. Let your body do the talking. A smile, a nod and – if culturally appropriate – a touch on the arm or hand will say volumes.
We’ve been volunteering as English teachers at a school for children from low-income homes in Zihuatanejo Mexico. Today was Valentine’s Day, so the kids (7-13) were busy making Valentine presents to exchange with each other. We joined in.
We taught them to say and write Happy Valentine’s Day, for the letters they were writing to the school’s founder. (This school runs on donations). Then we all admired each other’s work. The children were excited, so concentrating on English was out of the questions.
Instead, as they spoke to us excitedly in Spanish, we smiled and hugged them and told them in English how good they were. We knew they didn’t understand all the words – but they got the message. Their proud smiles said so.
Time to banish bullet points
Looking for a great way of making your slide presentations stand out from the crowd?
Try dumping all those bullet points.
A whole lot of research into how the brain works suggests that bulleted lists of information on slides is the least-effective way of communicating with your audience.
Dr Richard Mayer, an educational psychologist in California, says words that are spoken have a greater impact on an audience than text on a slide. If the audience is processing data on slides, they’re not concentrating on the spoken words.
You want your audience to be hanging on every word of your dynamite presentation. The role of the slide is to reinforce strategic elements of your message.
If you want a role model, look at any of Steve Jobs’ promotions of new Apple products. The slides are Zen-like in their simplicity. The most prominent element of each slide is white space.
What would your next presentation look like without bullet points?
(This is a shortened version of an article to be published in our February Newsletter. The February Newsletter also offers advice on asking smarter questions, on body language, and on cross-cultural communication. If you are not already getting our monthly digest of tips and interesting articles about communications, you can sign up on this page).
Sometimes a hug is all you need
It’s nice to know you’ve earned your fee. But sometimes it’s enough just to get a hug. This week we got lots of hugs. We were volunteering at a very special school in Mexico. It’s for bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The children put in a half-day at regular public schools around Zihuatanejo. Then they spend the rest of the day at the Casa para Ninos del Pacifico School. Here, they get a meal, and courses ranging from art to computers to social and health issues. The children, whose ages range from 7 – 13, also get psychological help, help with homework, and support with clothing and school supplies.
The school was opened in 2000, thanks to the support of local hotels. And it’s kept alive by donations and gifts.
Our role as part-time volunteers is to work with the kids on their conversational English. Whether you are working in English or Spanish, the key to good communication is the same: keep it simple. These children understand that – and it’s a joy to see the delight on their faces as their fluency and confidence increases.
At the end of a day the smiles on their faces are all the thanks you could desire – so the hugs are a real bonus.
TalkitOut helps singer hit right note with audience
One of our most unusual – but most fun – projects has been to work with a French Canadian with a voice like Edith Piaf who sings in a small town in Mexico.
Michelle Lavallee has a big talent – her voice. She’s originally from Quebec, Canada, but found herself in Mexico City. She started singing in the streets – but admits that in the early days she was so nervous she kept her eyes closed. She only realised people liked her voice when she heard coins dropping into her box.
After Mexico City she wound up living in Zihuatanejo, on the west coast of Mexico. That’s where we met up with her last year. We were bowled over not only by her voice but also by her ability to sing in 5 languages – English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
Yet, watching her show, there was something missing. It was in the introductions to her songs. They didn’t really give the audience a sense of who she was, or of her love of Mexico, or why she’d chosen to sing a particular song.
We worked with her one rainy morning on the charming bougainvillea-covered patio of a boutique hotel. We used the Podium Talkitout™ Technique to weave the tale of her life, her passion for music and Mexico through her sets.
We didn’t get to see the result of our work until this year. What a difference. Her introductions set up her songs much better and made the audience eager to hear them.
Michelle is happy. The audience is happy. And we’re happy with the versatility of this wonderful technique that can transform anyone, even talented singers, into amazing performers.
Media training pays off for swim team
A quick shout-out to the Nova Scotia synchro swim team as they prepare for the opening of the Canada Winter Games in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
At Podium we thank you for the invitation to attend a gala reception on February 4th. We can’t be there – but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for you.
We did some media coaching with the team. Coach Colleen Aird says that since then the girls have been on CTV news at 6:00, CBC radio (English and French), the Chronicle Herald newspaper, the Bedford News, Southender and a few other media outlets.
Colleen says the team members have done a fantastic job talking to the media.
Now let’s hope they can do a fantastic job when the Games open on February 11th. The Nova Scotia squad go into the competition in high spirits. Last weekend they beat NB and PEI in an exciting competition.
How to be successful in the global market-place
It seems appropriate that my webinar with the International Institute of Business Analysis this month was on diversity – because I’m learning about the politics and culture of Mexico as I escape for a couple of weeks the worst of our Canadian winters, writes Halina St James.
Understanding diversity is important. If you don’t, when you’re dealing with another culture, you can cause all kinds of communication headaches.
So what should you do when you’re about to do business with someone in another country? Here are some basic tips to help avoid any conversational misunderstandings:
- Research the culture of the other party. Know what it is appropriate to talk about and what is off-limits. There’s a wealth of information on Google, or in books like Business Etiquette for Dummies.
- Learn a few words in the other language – ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘good-bye’, ‘I’m sorry I don’t speak you language’, ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you.’ Show that you’re making an effort. It will start your relationship on a good foot.
- Start your conversation with a neutral topic, like the weather. In some cultures, it’s rude to ask personal questions right away. Also, you want to hear the other person’s accent, and let them hear your accent. Give yourselves time to get used to the way you speak and you will understand each other better when you really get down to business.
- Acknowledge the elephant in the room. You both have accents. If you truly don’t understand what the other person said, tell them so nicely. Make a small joke about your bad accent in their language. Ask people politely to repeat what they said. If you see the person doesn’t understand what you said, respectfully repeat using simpler words and sentences.
- Never shout or speak unnaturally slowly. This is offensive. The problem is not that the other party is hard of hearing – it’s that you are not making yourself clear.
In our next Podium Coaching newsletter, I’ll give you more tips on dealing with diversity. If you are not already getting the newsletter, you can sign-up on this page.